During the cock fight, I talked to the owner of NicAsi about how I wanted to do a cooking class earlier in the day but couldn’t because it was just me. Turns out NicAsi ran the cooking class as well, and they offered two options: a Nicaraguan beef stew (indio viejo, which is delicious) or iguana soup (sopa de garrobo). The choice was obvious – FUCKIN’ IGUANA SOUP. The thing was, we had to go to the market, buy all of our ingredients ourselves, and then kill and skin the iguana. Fully immersive experience. Two other guys and I were down like Chinatown, though we may have just developed this bravado after several drinks. We still met the following morning, and we did not renege on our plans.
The market in Leon is filled with fruits, people and flies. I was pretty hungover from the night before and didn’t have time to snag breakfast before meeting up to slay some iguanas. We picked up onions, peppers, plantains, garlic, tomatoes, carrots and all of the other ingredients that you see in practically every Nicaraguan soup/dish. It was when we got to the iguanas that I think we all started to feel a tinge of “What the fuck are we getting ourselves into?” The iguanas were tied up, Guantanamo style, laid out on some newspaper and sold by an old and large Nicaraguan woman. We had to select the iguanas ourselves. Do we want one with the most colorful skin? The biggest with the most meat? The smallest with the least amount of intimidation? They writhed when we touched them – so much remorse!
We rode on the most ghetto and packed chicken bus yet to get to the outskirts of town with our food. It was like one of those refugee vans with the tarp on top, and there were actually chickens on this chicken bus. Howdy do! We arrived in a very small and dusty part of town with its very own cock-fighting ring and assortment of kids yelling hello to us gringos. We were going to be cooking in a man’s house with a tiny kitchen and huuuuge cast-iron pot outside. He and his 14-year old daughter would be helping us cook.
First, we went to the tortilla factory, which is more like the tortilla sweatshop. There are four or five ladies in this hut churning out thousands of tortillas a day by hand. And it is god damn hot in that hut.
We each got to try our hand at making one tortilla. Let me say that tortilla making is difficult. Or maybe I was hungover. But nevertheless, I struggled and it stuck to my palms and I couldn’t really get the circular-slapping motion down. Tortilla Mama gave me an 8/10.
We bought a stack of tortillas and made our way back to the house where we were to do all of our cooking. We were making a tomato salad and, of course, sopa de garrobo. (Side note: iguana and garrobo are apparently two different things. Garrobo is a male iguana, and iguana is a female iguana. I don’t know if there is a significant difference in taste, but most people have said that it’s pretty much the same.) First thing we did was kill the iguana. That was the quickest cure for a hangover ever. I was the last of the three to go, but it was still jarring as hell, even though I already knew we had to saw the head off and not just WHACK it off, that the tail would whip around violently when you cut it off, and the sickening sound of iguana skin coming off of flesh. Fucking. Insane.
Most folks that I’ve told about this look at me like I’m a monster, or maybe I’m just projecting. I figure that if you aren’t willing to kill an animal, you shouldn’t be eating it. There should probably be a lot more vegetarians out there than there are, but whatever.
I have a LOT of pictures of me during the slaying, but I’m abstaining from posting them online for the sake of the faint of heart. Instead, here’s some pictures of the soup!
If you’re curious, iguana tastes like chicken with the texture of very firm fish.
Also, on the way back to town, I got to ride on the outside of the chicken bus, hangin’ on the back. I tried to learn how to do this high-pitched whistle that Latin Americans can do, but I failed.